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Monday, September 26, 2011

Is Obama the Antichrist?

In the twentieth century, Christian apocalypticism thought it saw the end of days in the midst of baleful signs, including historical biblical criticism, the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, evolutionary science, and the United Nations. In the United States, the consolidation of power in the federal government at the expense of federalism (and, theoretically, liberty as well) was apocalyptically taken as a precursor to the end. According to Matt Sutton, “As the government grew in response to industrialization, fundamentalists concluded that the rapture was approaching.” The trajectory, in other words, was viewed as headed toward a global super-state under the thumb of a seemingly benevolent ruler. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “consolidation of power across more than three terms in the White House, his efforts to undermine the autonomy of the Supreme Court, his dream of a global United Nations and especially his rapid expansion of the government confirmed what many fundamentalists had feared: the United States was lining up with Europe in preparation for a new world dictator. This “leader would ultimately prove to be the Antichrist, who, after the so-called rapture of true saints to heaven, would lead humanity through a great tribulation culminating in the second coming and Armageddon.”

Thanks to Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law of 2010, some of the anti-state apocalyptic voters viewed Barak Obama during his first few years as president as possibly being the antichrist. Questions about Obama’s birth only fueled the speculation. According to Sutton, the “specious theories about his place of birth, his internationalist tendencies, his measured support for Israel and his Nobel Peace Prize fit their long-held expectations about the Antichrist. So does his commitment to expanding the reach of government in areas like health care. In 2008, the campaign of Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee, presciently tapped into evangelicals’ apocalyptic fears by producing an ad, ‘The One,’ that sarcastically heralded Mr. Obama as a messiah.” On the Fox News network, one host regularly referred to Obama as “the anointed one.” This reference was not lost on evangelical apocalyptic voters.  

Analysis:

The sheer paradigmatic distance between twenty-first century secularists and evangelical apocalyptics may go a long way in explaining the blockages between the U.S. House Republicans and the U.S. Senate Democrats (and the president). In other words, the voters represented by the two parties are not only on different pages—the two groups are reading different books. Indeed, beyond having radically different theological assumptions and beliefs, the two groups may differ even on whether religion is legitimate. For example, a modernist secular voter might characterize the apocalyptics as superstitious. The voter could point to the failure of the world to end in the twentieth century in spite of all the signs of the impending rapture and period of tribulation. Indeed, “the sky is falling” Christian reading goes back to the pre-Constantine persecutions. The Gospels have Jesus himself saying that the generation then alive would still be living (i.e., in the world) when the Son of Man comes on clouds (i.e., the second coming).

In spite of the problems with the apocalyptic interpretation (which seems to have been applied in any decadent or disruptive period in the history of Christianity), definite trends can be identified, such as the U.S. Government’s increase of power at the expense of the several states. Furthermore, increasing global interdependence—such as in regard to health, nuclear weapons, and climate—has indeed increased pressure on politicians to increase the power of the U.N. The proliferation of empire-scale federal unions beyond that of the U.S.—as evinced by the E.U. and even the A.U.—can also be viewed as a trend toward globalized governance (i.e., a federation of regional federations, which themselves are made up of kingdom-level states).

How such trends are interpreted is what triggers the gulf between the apocalyptics and the secularists (and even the mainline churches). My main point is that political intransience can be expected with such divergent views of social reality and its basis. For instance, does society (and government) result from a social contract (e.g. Hobbes, Locke, Kant) or a divine decree (e.g., Augustine and Aquinas)? Is increasing statism a sign of the Antichrist or simply a response to problems of industrialization? The interpretations go beyond whether the trends are good or bad. Accordingly, discourse itself can be expected to be extremely difficult. It is not, however, impossible, and solutions are possible.

For example, federalism can accommodate such divergent views as long as the federal units have enough autonomy from the general government. The E.U. is in a better condition in this respect than is the U.S., though the European Union risks dissolution (e.g., the state debt crisis) because the E.U. Government does not have enough competencies to effectively manage the integration already accomplished.  However, federalism should not be viewed as a panacea. It is possible that the fundamentally disparate differences between the apocalyptics and the secularists regarding the role of government are such that political separation is the only suitable solution. This may be why Texas under Rick Perry flirted with succession in Obama’s early years. In any case, as difficult as discourse between the representatives of the two groups may be, being in political union demands tolerance and discussion, which in turn require humility (including a recognition that one can be wrong). Yet even here, Biblical inerrancy throws in a wrench, making discourse tortuous for both sides.

The distance between the parties is indeed formidable and perhaps even intractable. Even deciding whether to separate would be daunting. A union containing a very deep cleft is thus what we Americans suffer to manage amid political paralysis, finger-pointing, and shouting. God must surely be diverting his eyes in utter disgust and ultimately sadness—not about the signs or trends necessarily, but, rather, concerning the sheer anger being evinced in such tight quarters. Were there any adults willing to come to the fore, a secular voter might lightheartedly proffer in generosity, God shines His light on this city on a hill. Otherwise, we are together in quite another place.


See related essay: Can Satanism Do Without God?

Source:

Matthew A. Sutton, “Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics,” The New York Times, September 25, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/opinion/why-the-antichrist-matters-in-politics.html?_r=1&ref=opinion